Involution: a perspective for understanding Japanese animation's domestic business in a global context

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4 Citations (Scopus)


This article proposes the concept of ‘involution’ as a perspective to understand the socioeconomic dynamics of the domestic business practices within the Japanese animation (anime) sector in relation to its overseas performance. There is a counterintuitive gap between the prevalent assumption that anime is globally popular and its weak overseas performance. Leaving the detail of anime's business aspects relatively unexamined, the literature on anime has particularly failed to address the ‘inward-looking’ feature of the business of the Japanese anime sector. Based on long-term fieldwork of the business players in the Japanese anime sector in Tokyo, this article suggests ‘involution’ as a key concept to fill this void. This concept, developed by anthropologist Clifford Geertz, refers to the process by which a group develops internally by sticking to existing modes of operation rather than by opening up to the outer world. This article depicts how we might understand the socioeconomic dynamics of the Japanese anime sector's mainstream domestic market centrist mode of operation in the context of involution. It also explores how the concept could catalyse us to envision the alternative future of anime, other than assuming anime's global popularity: the involuting Japanese anime sector might be allowing Euro-American and Chinese internet conglomerates to intervene and take over, turning the Japanese anime sector into one of their subcontractors from which they can exploit the sector's creativity.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)102-125
Number of pages24
JournalJapan Forum
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2020 Jan 2
Externally publishedYes


  • Asia
  • China
  • animation
  • anime
  • creative industry
  • internet
  • involution

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Cultural Studies
  • History
  • Sociology and Political Science


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